Home Truths

  • Nasir Lone
  • Publish Date: Jun 20 2016 10:21PM
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  • Updated Date: Jun 20 2016 10:21PM
Home Truths

Serious crime is on the rise in Kashmir and it’s dangerous to pretend ignorance

Mother slits throats of her two infant children. Wife kills her husband and hacks his body into pieces. Minor girl gang raped in a hotel. Young student murdered and dismembered.
Take a survey of the people around you and chances are fair they would venture a guess where these dastardly crimes might have taken place –- anywhere but in Kashmir.
Maybe it’s our naivety, or misplaced belief in the goodness of our own tribe, or even the circumstances of our political situation that we do not acknowledge, let alone confront, the rise in serious crime in our midst. Whatever the reason may be, this blindness is doing our society great damage.
Aglar is a small village in Pulwama district. Here lived Mohammad Shaban, a carpenter, with his wife Raja Begum and their two young children. One evening nearly six years ago, Rajawent to their neighbour Ashiq Ahmad with Shaban’s tools and asked him to sharpen them. Her husband, she said, was going to Srinagar for work, as he often would. Later that night, after their daughter had gone to sleep – their son was staying with his uncle – Raja took the tools and hacked Shaban to death. She put the body in a rice sack and buried it in their cowshed. For the next few weeks, when people began noticing Shaban’s absence and started inquiring, Raja told them what she had Ashiq, that her husband had gone to Srinagar for work.
“After a while, she felt that people were getting suspicious and she lodged a complaint at the local police station,” said Ashiq. One day, nearly a month after the murder, the village’s chowkidar came looking for Shaban. Raja was in the cowshed and she rushed out to meet him, but forgot to shut the door behind her. The chowkidar felt a foul smell emanating from the cowshed, and when he asked about it, Raja said a rat must have died. The chowkidar insisted on helping her remove the dead rodent and went inside. “That is when he found out that she had buried Shaban there,” Ashiq said. He informed the police, who arrested Raja and charged her with murder. As for the motive: apparently, Raja and Shaban’s marriage had broken down, and fights had become an almost daily occurrence.
Such gruesome crimes are being increasingly reported, yet we, as a society, keep insisting that Kashmir remains serious crime-free. No amount of evidence of the rising incidence of murder, abduction, rape, parricide, dowry death, seems to convince us otherwise. According to a report released by the National Crime Records Bureau in 2011, J&K had the second highest crime rate of any state in India.
The report only serves to confirm the anecdotal evidence of rising crime in Kashmir. Consider the headline-grabbing crimes that have taken place in just the recent memory:
The cases of rape and murder of Tabinda Gani in November 2007 and Romana in June 2009.
Asrar Mushtaq, 20, was murdered by his own friends in July 2011. And last year, the mutilated body of a young man from Peerbagh, Srinagar, was on a railway track. He, too, had allegedly been murdered by people he knew. Back in November 2009, the murder of Kaleem Qadri, a teenager from Pampore, had been widely reported.
In January this year, Ruqaiya Bano of Khretti Larnoo, Anantnag, was arrested for slitting the throats of her 4-year-old son Imran Wagay and 2-year-old daughter Chandni. She had tried to kill herself afterwards, but survived. According to the police, “she wanted to teach a lesson to her husband whom she suspected him of having an extramarital affair with a woman in her neighborhood”.
Just early this month, three men were arrested for gang raping a 17-year-old girl in Qazigund.
But why exactly is serious crime on the rise? The renowned sociologist Prof Bashir Ahmad Dabla, who died last year, sought to explain it in his book Social Impact of Militancy in Kashmir as being contextualised by two distinctive processes – modernisation and militancy-militarisation. He defined modernisation as the overlapping processes of urbanisation, industrialisation, media exposure, materialistic orientation and moral degeneration that transform developing societies everywhere. It’s this transformation, he argued, that begets serious crime as a social trend.
In Kashmir, this transformation was hastened by the arrival of the gun, which also fell into the hands of those who used it for personal gain rather than political objectives. The militancy-militarisation the gun resulted in unleashed a wave of violence, especially against women, brought Kashmir into the global mainstream of crime.
In his paper Normlessness and Seeds of Criminality in Kashmir: A Social Analysis, Aijaz Ahmad Mir, a Kashmir University research scholar, cited the findings of a field study conducted in Srinagar which seemed to confirm Prof Dabla’s conclusions. “Most people believe that rise of conflict situation is the primary cause of increased crime rate in Srinagar city. A maximum of 38.28% people follow this opinion,” the paper, published in 2013, stated. “The other main reasons are excessive freedom to youth (22.91%), socioeconomic insatiability (10.30%), immorality (10.30%) and poverty (4.18%).”
As elsewhere in the world, the rise in crime in Kashmir has in large part been attributed to joblessness. J&K has an unemployment rate of around 5.3%, way higher than theneighbouring states. Educated unemployed youth number over two lakh. Unemployment, the rationale goes, leads to frustration, which in turn pushes people to crime. This, however, does not fully explain the steep increase in juvenile crime. According to the J&K Police’s Crime Branch, 52% of the cases registered with it in 2013 and 2014 involved juveniles.
Dr Mohammad Maqbool Dar, head of the department of Psychiatry at Government Medical College, Srinagar, explained the trend thus, “The ongoing conflict in Kashmir has affected the psychological growth of our youngsters. The number of people suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder has increased tremendously over the past few decades. These youngsters don’t even realise they are doing something wrong committing a crime. They have grown up in an environment which is far from normal. It is a psychological disorder. What is unlawful or a crime to us is not immoral to them.”
Prof Peerzada Amin, who teaches sociology at Kashmir University, blamed a more fundamental reason. “Our society has changed from having a collective ethos to individual ethos. We have become more materialistic, self-centric and corrupt,” he said, adding that the “trend of living in nuclear families rather than joint families could be a key reason for waywardness among youngsters”.
According to data provided by the Crime Branch, while the number of criminal cases registered in J&K declined marginally last year to 25,269 from 25,390 in 2014, the valley saw an increase in the number of such cases, from 12,004 to 12,212. The cases relate to murder, abduction, rape, harassment, molestation, domestic violence, suicide, among others. Worrying as these figures are, they don’t represent the true picture of the incidence of crime; according to a senior police officer, people often do not report crimes such as rape, molestation, domestic violence, torture for dowry owing to the social stigma the victims of such crimes face. The Crime Branch estimates that a crime is committed in the valley every 43 minutes.
“It’s true that not all crimes are reported. This data only includes crimes that have been reported,” the officer said. In 2015, the state recorded as many as 1,557 cases of molestation and eve teasing and 315 of rape.
What makes the rising crime graph especially disquieting is the absence of societal or institutional response. “We need to awaken the collective conscience of the society,” said Dr Maqbool. It’s important, he stressed, to “integrate institutional and societal mechanisms to prevent young people from falling into the vortex of crime”. Prof Amin agreed, “Unless we address these issues together as a society, don’t expect this upward trend of crime to go down.”